Sunday, October 5, 2014
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
These names have been in my head since middle school but I realized lately that I had no memory of what their story was about at all - and that bothered me. I'd been watching for an audio version on Audible that had a narrator with a southern drawl. I've found that listening to books with authentic narrators really helps me to get my head into their space. This summer, an unabridged copy was released narrated by Sissy Spacek and from the sample, I was hooked.
This novel is a marvel. A master piece. Its plot is compelling - that of a small southern town in the 1930s and one particular family that lives there. Lawyer Atticus Finch and his two children Jem and Scout, along with their African American cook, have to navigate a world where black is less than white and any white that finds sympathy for black is just as hated. When Atticus becomes the defense attorney for a black defendant, his family becomes the target in a world where you have to take sides on any issue that has to do with race.
But what's miraculous about what Harper Lee has done here, is that she's telling us the story from the point of view of a young child - by a girl who has been raised by a tolerant, loving and, above all, upright father. So through her eyes we are forced to see how abhorrent and upsetting racism is - how against nature. We have to look at the evidence and cry out for justice. We watch the way she feels about a reclusive neighbor when she is young and then see her taught by that same father, finding not just gratitude for Boo Radley but compassion. Can you overrate compassion in the set of qualities you want your children to learn? Jem, her brother, is just as good of an example of looking at the world through fresh and guile-less eyes - his hatred for what is unfair rings so true and so optimistic. It makes me feel like that way we teach our children DOES matter. Like standing up for our beliefs in the face of danger and hatred can create an atmosphere in our home where our children dare to do the same. What we need is a planet full of Atticus Finches because men like Atticus Finch, who do not shy from what their gut says is right, can change everything. And you can watch a town slowly reveal individuals who just need someone like Atticus to stand up first, then they can be brave enough to do the same.
Yes, there is some harsh stuff in here. There is talk of rape. There are racial epithets that might bother some readers. But oh, the REDEMPTION. The hearts of people trying to protect the weak. The childhood experiences of a time long past in a culture that no longer exists in the same way. The sprinkles of comic relief and the pride in one's home county.
Books like this are why I read. Books that make me feel things so deeply about things that really matter that I weep.
I could not recommend it more.